Last night (Tuesday) saw the first of the Halfords Tour Series for 2012, in Scotland. A month on the road has begun!
I’m writing this after the second night in a row at not seeing my bed until the early hours of the morning and that is something riders as well as team and race staff will have to get used to over the next eleven rounds of the Halfords Tour series.
The Photo Album from Kirkcaldy
It’s a tough series for everybody but the opening round in Kirkcaldy certainly was worth the lack of sleep and hundreds of miles of driving. It was, in the main dry in a country where I have been rained on more times than I care to remember and the race was brutal, oh so brutal.
It reminded of the endurance track races the UCI have so ‘cleverly’ cut from the Olympic programme. Like the Points or the Madison where the riders will batter each into submission and you don’t just get riders getting dropped but into such a state they have no choice but to retire from the race.
It was the early break by two Rapha riders, Kristian House and Ed Clancy that saw the rest have to respond to the challenge and a brutal battle begun…
For me, this event has been the most important addition to the British racing calendar for over a decade and the sport of road racing at the top end is flourishing because of it. I was also eagerly awaiting this series more than any other simply because of the importance the teams have put on it by strengthening their squads. And I don’t think I am alone in wanting to see this first round and see how the new boys fared.
This year, Raleigh-GAC, Node 4, IG Sigma Sport, Cycle Premier-Kovert and of course Endura Racing strengthened their teams to try and make their mark on the Halfords Tour Series. Rapha too did likewise replacing their Aussies Zak Dempster and Dean Windsor with others, Ben Grenda and Richard Lang. The question mark was how would the new names fare in the 2012 Halfords Tour Series.
Answers were forthcoming in Kirkcaldy. Endura Racing showed they were able to be as good in the Halfords Tour Series as they have been in other major British Road races but don’t think for a minute they dominated! The result was the right one for them but they were breathing through their ears at times early on when Rapha looked like they would dominate.
The crowd that came to see Scott Thwaites cross the line first was proof of just why the Halfords Tour Series is so important to bike racing in the UK.
The ‘men in black’ (Rapha) are the defending title holders for the series and in reality have lost little in the big changes made to their team over the winter. Clancy, Downing, McCallum, Tennant, House etc etc. The majority of the riders who dominated the series early on last year are still there. Early on at Kirkcaldy, they had two riders up the road in a break of three and I watched as riders from behind tried to bridge to the group but failed.
Not even the Endura Racing riders were able to snuff out such challenges. What worked for Endura Racing was the toughness of the race. The tougher the race got, the more it played into their hands. But it was close. Look at the finish picture and you can see new riders in the series showing they are more than a match for the racing; Bernie Sulzberger and Rico Rogers were second and third.
Dean Windsor in new colours was fourth and like last year, in amongst it at the sharp end in a big way. But the surprise for me was UK Youth. A lovely team led by one of the nicest people you could meet in Magnus Backstedt but other than the Perfs, they have had it tough on the road for lots of reasons. In Kirkcaldy they made people sit up and take notice.
After the finish last night, they thought they had won, celebrations ensued and look at the finish picture and a big group of UK Youth riders at the front was good reason for them to be confident but Endura Racing sneaked in with three in the top ten including the individual win and it was them that got the team award.
The showing by UK Youth though, and that of Raleigh-GAC in third and the other top teams is a great sign that this series more than any other will be getting better and better as riders find their crit legs.
They will though need to look after themselves. This series is won as much in the travelling as it is in the racing and Endura Racing will know that as will Rapha and the other top teams. I expect the challenge will get stronger to Endura Racing and the winner there is the Halfords Tour Series. It will, I’m sure make great viewing. Not that I’ll get to see it as hotels don’t always have ITV4. But then, I’ll probably be asleep by then at the keyboard ….